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New Book Features Computer Models That Simulate Changes In Large Forested Landscapes

David Mladenoff, a University of Wisconsin-Madison landscape ecologist, and William Baker, a landscape ecologist at the University of Wyoming, have edited Spatial Modeling of Forest Landscape Change, a new book from Cambridge University Press. The book presents a variety of approaches researchers are taking in applying computer models to studies of large, forested landscapes.

Ecologists, foresters, wildlife biologists and conservationists around the world are trying to manage forests in ways that sustain timber production, protect biological diversity and enhance the entire forest ecosystem over the long term. Addressing how ecological processes and human activities interact to change forest landscapes is a challenge, Mladenoff says.

To resolve so many issues on such a grand scale, forest scientists have turned to new computer models that depict forest change spatially, according to the Department of Forest Ecology and Management professor. “Computers enable researchers to create programs that simulate factors affecting forest changes over broad areas and long time periods. They allow us to view forests as a changing, photographic map image.”

“For example,” Mladenoff says, “We can load a map of a large, forested landscape — such as northwest Wisconsin — classified from satellite imagery that tells us the current distribution of tree species. By running a model, we can simulate how climate change or different logging practices might affect that forest over the coming decades or even centuries. We can try this with various assumptions or scenarios. In effect, we use the computer to do experiments on systems that are too large and on changes that operate too slowly for field or laboratory experiments.”